What is tinea?
Tinea is a common and contagious fungal skin infection. The tinea fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, so areas like the feet, the groin, the scalp, under the breasts and sometimes the toe and fingernails are ideal places for the fungus to grow.
What are the types of tinea?
Tinea can affect many areas of the skin and the infection will have a different name depending on the location and fungal type. These different types include:
- nail infection (onychomycosis) — a fungal infection of the toe or finger nails
- athlete's foot (tinea pedis) — a fungal infection of the skin on the feet
- ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) — a fungal infection that develops on the head
- ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) — a fungal infection of the body that develops on the top layer of the skin
- jock itch (tinea cruris) — a rash in the moist, warm areas of the groin
Who is at risk of tinea?
Tinea can affect anyone, although most tinea infections are mild. Young people and men — as well as anyone who plays a lot of sport, spends time in communal changing rooms and showers, or who wears runners (sneakers) — are most likely to be affected by athlete’s foot.
What are the symptoms of tinea?
Symptoms of tinea include a red flaky rash that can crack, split and peel, as well as blistering and itching.
Sometimes the rash appears in a circular ring pattern, which is called ‘ringworm’ but this can be a little misleading because there is no worm involved.
If tinea forms in the nails they may develop a yellow or white discolouration. If it forms on the scalp, bald spots may occur.
How is tinea treated?
The infected area should be kept clean and dry because the fungus prefers to grow in moist, warm conditions.
Tinea is treated with anti-fungal medicines, which usually come as a cream, ointment or gel. You can purchase these creams over-the-counter from any pharmacy and from some supermarkets. Follow the application instructions on the package carefully and speak to your pharmacist if you have questions.
It can take weeks or even months for tinea to clear up, depending on what type of fungus it is. Tinea of the nails (onychomycosis) is much more difficult to treat and may require medication taken by mouth before it can be treated successfully.
Medication for tinea
Some people might need a prescription for oral medication (tablets). They might be needed if the tinea is widespread, if the treatment to the skin hasn’t worked, if it is on a person's head, if it is in the nails or if it keeps coming back.
All medicines can have side effects. Before using tinea medicines you can ask your doctor or pharmacist about:
- the side effects of your tinea medicines
- their benefits
- what to do if you miss a dose
- what to do if you experience side effects
Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you feel unwell when taking your medicines. Do not stop or change your medicines without talking to your doctor. You can look up information about medicines here.
Can tinea be prevented?
Good personal hygiene can help prevent you from getting a tinea infection. Keeping the body clean will also stop the infection from spreading to other areas.
There are several things you can do to help manage or avoid the condition:
- Tinea is contagious so it's important not to share towels, flannels, bathmats, treatment creams or shoes. Wear thongs when showering in a communal shower.
- After washing, dry the skin thoroughly, especially between the toes, in the groin and under the breasts.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after cleaning the infected area to make sure you don't spread your infection to other parts of your body or onto other people.
- Use antiperspirants to help control excessive sweating.
- Try not to scratch your rash as you may spread the infection to other parts of your body.
- Try to expose the skin to as much fresh air as possible.
In addition to good hygiene, your choice of clothing and footwear can also make a difference:
- Make sure your feet are completely dry before putting on socks, stockings or tights.
- Wear clothing made from natural fibres instead of synthetics to prevent sweating and to avoid warm, moist skin areas developing.
- Wear socks and shoes made from natural materials, such as cotton, when possible and try to choose footwear that keeps your feet cool and dry.
- Change socks, tights or stockings and bra every day.
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Last reviewed: August 2019